Where nursing and social care meet: the care home internships inspiring nursing students

Northumbria University scheme taps into the rich learning environment of nursing homes

Northumbria University scheme taps into the rich learning environment of nursing homes

  • The care sector is often stigmatised as being a ‘second-best’ career to acute nursing settings 
  • Northumbria University set up a nursing student internship to tap the immense learning potential from care homes
  • Find out how programme makes a practical difference for hospital as well as care home staff, and deepens interns' knowledge of nursing older people
Picture: iStock

A team of lecturers has created an internship offering nursing students the opportunity to complete their third-year management placement in a care home. The programme aims to address the stigma associated with nursing in care homes and train nurses to deliver excellent care to an ageing population with increasingly complex needs.

Inspiration from learning opportunities offered to nursing students in the United States

The idea for the internship came from senior lecturer in adult nursing Juliana Thompson, who won a Florence Nightingale Foundation travel scholarship to investigate nursing in other countries’ care home sectors.

Impressed by a programme in the United States, Dr Thompson devised Northumbria University’s integrated health and social care internship with senior lecturer Sue Tiplady.

‘The local clinical commissioning groups and care homes could see this was a way to attract nursing students into careers caring for older people,’ says Dr Thompson.

‘Students gain an understanding of the care home sector from the floor, and work with commissioners, quality assurance leads and policy makers to learn about strategy and how the wider healthcare system affects the care of older people,’ she adds.

‘They experience working in social care, and the private and voluntary sector, so have lots to bring to employers. We don’t take huge numbers, but the people who complete the programme are snapped up for jobs – it’s been really successful.’

From left, Jemma James, Sue Tiplady, professor of nursing Glenda Cook and
Juliana Thompson. The Northumbria internship team won a C
avell Nurses' Trust award, 
having been nominated by Ms James

Don’t underestimate how much you can learn in a care home

Newly qualified nurse Jemma James completed the 24-week internship in March 2019, graduating from Northumbria University with a degree in adult nursing in the same month. 

‘I was excited by the programme’s potential to improve older people's care and hoped to gain a better understanding of health and social care and how to bring them together,’ says Ms James.

‘Nursing older people is complex, and no two days are the same’

Jemma James, staff nurse, Freeman Hospital

Initially her peers were concerned. 'Management placements are usually done in similar clinical areas to other placements, such as the community, hospital wards or theatres,' says Ms James. ‘People asked “are you sure?” and said I would not gain clinical skills in a care home.

'As this was a new placement with a new company in a new area, it was also a completely blank slate and needed setting up as we went, which was also a risk. But it turned out to be great, I loved it.

‘Nursing older people is complex, and no two days are the same,’ adds Ms James, who now works as a staff nurse on an acute older people's care ward at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

‘It is about seeing the person go from where they are to where they want to be. That’s what nursing is – contact and communication with a patient, and using your clinical skills to make a difference.’ 

I took the lead to help an individual live independently

Staff nurse Jemma James writes: 

During my placement, I independently carried out a comprehensive, holistic assessment of the complex needs of a resident, who came into my care following a mandated mental health admission with multiple mental and physical co-morbidities.

Rather than remain in residential nursing care, the person wanted to return to supported living in the community with 24-hour, one-to-one support.

I collaborated with the resident and their family to manage expectations, ensure our goals were SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – and design a comprehensive care plan to prepare the individual for the move to supported living.

Presenting a business case and collaborating to deliver a care plan

I built a business case using my understanding of, and contacts in, older people's health and social care services in north east England, which I gained during the care home internship.

I presented our proposals to the multidisciplinary team meeting. After the care plan and costs were approved, I took the lead in ensuring it was delivered.

The resident has since been safely living independently.


An internship can open doors – and help you to find your passion

Ms James's passion for older people’s nursing encouraged her to attend events on mental and physical health and well-being.

‘The internship has increased my confidence – I now know I have a lot to bring as well as a lot to learn’

‘I share what I have experienced and learned with as wide an audience as possible,’ she says. ‘This has included building a network of contacts across north east England, presenting at care home forums, training local police about dementia support in the community, and attending consultations on nursing standards and syllabus design to ensure the older people's care agenda is included.

RCNi Nurse Awards 2020: enter now

‘I also completed the Council of Deans of Health student leadership programme, learned sign language and have become an Older People's nurse ambassador in my region, a Nursing Now ambassador and a delirium champion.’


Making the connection between hospitals and care homes

Working in hospitals and care homes is invaluable, she believes. ‘You can better join the dots, and I know what a care home nurse wants from a handover.

‘By understanding the services that exist through trusts, local authorities and voluntary organisations I can provide more comprehensive support to older patients,’ she says.

‘Care plans are realistic and well-supported, which is important when transferring care of older people from hospital to community settings. By approaching care transfers in a more knowledgeable way, I can reduce miscommunication and readmission rates.

‘Better patient care is what everyone wants, and the internship has increased my confidence – I now know I have a lot to bring as well as a lot to learn.' 

What we're doing is fundamental to nursing… yet people questioned whether I would gain clinical skills

Nursing student Helen Smith is in the second year of her two-year condensed degree course and is midway through her internship. She writes:

I’m passionate about nursing older people so I knew this internship was for me. 

The staff and my practice placement facilitator are so supportive and make sure I get everything I need from the internship. They treat me as part of the team.

I have had experiences that I would not get elsewhere, such as working with dementia and mental health nurses. 

The internship has taught me to bridge the gap between social care and nursing care through alternative therapies, especially for people who have dementia.

It has shown me how to push care forward in a different direction.

If you look at the statistics on our ageing population you can see how vital this work is, yet people still questioned whether I would gain the clinical skills I need. 

What we are doing is fundamental to nursing care. It has challenged the way I approach care, and my patients have noticed that the care I give has improved. I wish every student had this experience.


Elaine Cole is RCNi special projects editor

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